Anyone can be a leader. You don’t have to be the person officially anointed or appointed. And you don’t need to be “mom” or the “dad” figure. It’s simply about taking action to achieve a common goal by bringing people along.

Sometimes the best examples occur outside of the work environment. When you’re in everyday mode. Often, these situations give us some great insights into how we could be even better leaders at work.

Here’s an example I came across recently.

Everyone’s nightmare

Dan was going to the doctor for something relatively mundane. A semi-routine scan to see if his hernia was getting worse and whether an operation was required.

Then the doctor called. “We’re not worried about your hernia, but there’s a tumor on your kidney. Fortunately, it’s at an early stage and still quite small. However, it looks like it could be cancerous.”

The emergency biopsy confirmed this. And the specialist advised that the safest route is to have that kidney removed as soon as possible.

Many people would have panicked. Most of us would have gotten upset or even angry. And then gone with the initial advice.

In Dan’s case, two of his friends took the kind of leadership action that made an outsized difference to the outcome.

Here’s what happened and how you could apply this at work.

Keep a cool head

Dan was able to keep his cool, and this helped others around him to do so as well. And ultimately, it was his friend Ellie’s quick, clear headed thinking and action that opened up a different set of options to consider.

At work, emotions can be helpful in arousing the passion of followers, but they can also get in the way of being effective.

Whether at work or at home, great leadership requires being able to think calmly and clearly. Especially in a crisis, or when your team faces unexpected obstacles.

That’s when it’s most important to be able to manage your emotions and keep a cool head when you’re “in the moment”. Flick over to that part of your brain that contains logic and analysis. Ask questions that clarify your understanding. Find out what assumptions the “experts” are making. Pressure test those assumptions and try on different hypotheses.

Be willing to challenge the status quo

Ellie was the leading advocate for getting a second opinion. In fact, she insisted on it and led the charge for asking others for leads on who was good in this field. Losing a kidney is a big deal, even if you have two of them, especially for someone as young and active as Dan.

Similarly, in a work context great leaders aren’t afraid to challenge the status quo. It’s about figuring out how you can do it in a constructive way. For example, even as a relatively junior person, you can add value by asking good questions. And depending on how you phrase the question, it can be an effective way to challenge the status quo without coming across as challenging.

Have an informed point of view

Alongside Dan and his family, Ellie did her homework by researching and getting multiple points of view. Having an informed point of view was crucial to making the best decision on what course of action to take.

Good leaders also gather input. They consult with experts and key stakeholders to have as much a read of the situation as possible in the time allotted. We’re not talking about analysis paralysis. But making the effort to see the whole picture is important. It also helps you bring people along and gain buy in.

Identify the right team

When reaching out for a second opinion, Ellie found that one particular doctor in California was mentioned multiple times. And that doctor turned out to be the top expert in the field. Let’s call him Dr. Douglass.

Similarly, in putting together your team at work, figure out who would make the best addition. Each person must bring something special to the table. Resist the urge to “settle”. It’s much easier to add a person to the team than to part ways later on.

In fact, the cost of hiring the wrong person is huge. The investment in training them up, giving them a fair chance of succeeding, the disruption to the team if you have to make a change, and the opportunity cost of having the wrong person, not to mention getting a suboptimal result – it’s all substantial.

Just like choosing the wrong surgeon.

Get the team on board

However, like any leading expert, Dr. Douglass was booked solid for months in advance. So the issue was: how to get that crucial appointment?

That’s when Dan’s friend Suzanne took the lead and leveraged the “six degrees of separation” to reach the doctor. She got her father to call in a favor with his client who then called in a favor from his golfing buddy and so forth to ultimately get an appointment for the following week.

It’s a good reminder that it pays to have a broad network and a strong community of support. That’s why great leaders connect with people as part of the normal course of business. As they say, the best time to build your network is before you need to call on it.

It also helps to be someone that people will go to bat for. That’s where it’s important to be a person of high integrity who helps others and brings positive energy. Fortunately for Dan, that describes him perfectly.

Help others feel confident

The night before Dan’s operation, his friends and family came by to offer moral support. As is their family tradition, they ended the evening with a “group hug”.

Only this time, it was a big extended family all hugging Dan who stood at the center, arms upraised and receiving the love and positive wishes.

While the group hug may not be appropriate in all situations, it’s the sense of community and support that sends team members off with confidence. It could be the basketball team huddle, a team call, or simply a one-to-one quiet conversation.

There are many ways to say, “we’ve got your back”. “We believe in you.” “We’re sending positive thoughts your way.” “We’re in this together.” The important thing is to say it and mean it.

When people feel confident, they tend to perform at their best. And great leaders help the people around them to feel positive and confident.

“I love it when a plan comes together”

In the end, Dr. Douglass turned out to be brilliant. He had the latest cutting edge medical technology at his fingertips and removed the entire tumor and just 10% of Dan’s kidney. What a rock star. But for Dr. Douglass, it was all in a day’s work.

Having advocates, pressing for something other than the status quo, and getting the right person involved really paid off. There were many people taking things upon themselves along the way. Many acts of leadership – both micro and macro.

Do try this at home… and at work

You know how they say, “don’t try this at home” when they show people doing dangerous things on some TV show or video? Well, in this case, I’m saying “do try this” whether at home or at work or better yet, both.

And in the context of your career, what if you could apply that to work too and get seen in a different light? To be a stronger leader? To achieve better outcomes?

Don’t wait for a crisis to take charge, activate your network, rally people around finding solutions, challenge the status quo when needed, and engender confidence.

Be on the lookout for situations where you can make a difference, and then don’t hold back. Go for it!

What could you do to show up as a stronger leader?

Leave a comment and let me know.

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